“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture.”
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
1 Peter 2:4-6
This is something I wrote years ago. It is based on a fascinating allegorical book that some in the early Church actually thought should be in the canon of Scripture. Of course it was not in God’s will for it to be, however it is illustrative of Peter 2:4-6. Read slowly as it is very allegorical!
I best illustrate how early believers understood the true and universal Church by a strange and ancient allegory recorded as the Shepherd of Hermas. Both illustrative and insightful I present for your edification the words of the one called Hermas and a vision which he has written of. He tells of the angel of repentance showing him the wonderful construct of Christ’s Church from the beginning of time. He tells of creation and the raising up of a great rock of untold size and of ancient origin. He tells of the design of a wonderful gate and the oneness of the great edifice, God’s seamless Church. I will part for a time so that Hermas can command your attention.
“After I had written down the commandments and parables of the shepherd, the angel of repentance, he came to me and saith to me; ‘I wish to show thee all things that the Holy Spirit, which spake with thee in the form of the Church, showed unto thee. For that Spirit is the Son of God.’
“And in the middle of the plain he showed me a great white rock, rising up from the plain. The rock was loftier than the mountains, being four-square, so that it could contain the whole world.
“Now this rock was ancient, and had a gate hewn out of it; but the gate seemed to me to have been hewed out quite recently. And the gate glistened beyond the brightness of the sun, so that I marveled at the brightness of the gate.
“I saw six men come, tall and glorious and alike in appearance and they summoned a multitude of men. And the others also which came were tall men and handsome and powerful. And the six men ordered them to build a tower above the gate. And there arose a great noise from those men who had come to build the tower, as they ran hither and thither round the gate.
“Now the building of the tower was upon the great rock and above the gate.” Ten shining white stones were chosen to form the foundation of the tower and “were joined together, and they covered the whole rock. And these formed a foundation for the building of the tower. And [the rock and] the gate supported the whole tower. The stones of the tower were chosen with great care. Jesus Himself would test the stones for their suitability to be part of the tower for he “inspected the building so carefully, that he felt each single stone; and he held a rod in his hand and struck each single stone that was built in. And when he smote, some of the stones became black as soot, others mildewed, others cracked, others broke off short, others became neither white nor black, others rough and not fitting in with the other stones, and others with many spots; these were the varied aspects of the stones which were found unsound for the building. So he ordered all these to be removed from the tower….”
‘I would fain know, Sir,’ say I, ‘what is this building of this tower, and concerning the rock and gate…,’
“The shepherd saith unto me; ‘Let us go round the tower, and see that there is no defect in it.’ And I proceeded to go round it with him.
“And when the shepherd saw that the tower was very comely in the building, he was exceedingly glad; for the tower was so well builded, that when I saw it I coveted the building of it; for it was builded, as it were, of one stone, having one fitting in it. And the stone-work appeared as if hewn out of the rock; for it seemed to me to be all a single stone.
‘First of all, Sir,’ say I, ‘explain this to me. The rock and the gate, what is it?’ ‘This rock,’ saith he, ‘and gate is the Son of God.’
‘But the tower,’ say I, ‘what is it?’ ‘The tower,’ saith he, ‘why, this is the Church.’
For I remember well that Hermas’ “Shepherd” was for the early Church one of the most popular of books. A strange yet beautiful allegory written sometime in the second century, it has often been compared to another tale I remember well, Pilgrim’s Progress. Many of the early Church fathers considered it to be canon, yet it was not God’s will that it be so. As with many a book it is certainly inspiring and wonderful to read, however, although inspiring, it was not inspired as our Scriptures. As a window of insight the Shepherd permits us, nevertheless, to peer into the early Church’s understanding of the nature of Christ’s Church and it is very revealing to us.
As we follow Hermas’ dialogue with the shepherd it is made clear to him that Christ is the Rock that Christ’s Church is built on. This wonderful rock was of such large proportions that it could contain the whole world. It was as ancient as time itself, yet had a gate that was more recent. It was a gate that “glistened beyond the brightness of the sun”. The Church was built on this vast rock and only those could enter who entered through that magnificent gate. Christ himself was that gate for the only way to the Father was through that Gate.
None of the writings of the primitive Christian Church bring into question the shepherd’s assertions regarding Christ’s Church. Our brother Ignatius in his “Epistle to the Ephesians” made clear: “From His power Jesus Christ will deliver you, who has founded you upon the rock, as being chosen stones, well fitted for the divine edifice of the Father….” The Rock the Church was built on was Christ and the Gate we enter into the Church by is our profession of faith in him as our one and only Savior. As the Shepherd has illustrated the Lord has tested each of us to be chosen stones. As chosen stones we form a seamless body, the Church.
To Peter this was made clear by no greater authority than Jesus Himself. Jesus had asked His disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” Our Lord turned to Simon Peter: “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
The Rock was Christ for it could be no other and Peter’s faith in his Lord made him a chosen stone. For it was the profession of faith that Peter proclaimed that the Church is built on. The shepherd of our story saw this wonderful building and was “exceedingly glad; for the tower was so well builded… for it seemed to [him] to be all a single stone.” For by our faith we are chosen by Christ to be part of Christ’s Church and through that magnificent Gate we enter the Church, Christ’s Church unified as a single stone, which is our profession of Him as our Lord and Savior.
Peter knew well for he had been taught by the Master himself. In inspired Scripture Peter tells us: “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in our Scriptures it says: ‘See, I lay a Stone in Zion, a chosen and precious Cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ Now to you who believe, this Stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘The Stone the builders rejected has become the Capstone,’ and, ‘A Stone that causes men to stumble and a Rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.”